WhatsApp purchased its first commercial in the United States during the AFC Championship game. To stress the privacy hazards of SMS, it utilized an overbearing mailman. I was ecstatic to see data privacy take center stage as someone who is passionate about it. Except for one thing: it was a wonderful commercial in every sense. The messenger had made a mistake. I’d be willing to believe it if the advertisement came from a firm with a solid track record in data protection, like Apple, but not WhatsApp, which is owned by Meta.
With over 2 billion users in 180 countries, WhatsApp is the most popular messaging program on the planet. However, it has yet to gain popularity in its native market of the United States, where customers continue to depend largely on SMS (insecure) and iMessage (secure, but Apple-bound). WhatsApp is also trailed by Facebook Messenger (Meta-integrated) and, to a lesser extent, Snapchat (ad-supported) and Signal (very secure). It makes sense for WhatsApp to make a significant privacy effort from this standpoint.
As a relatively unknown brand among millions of American consumers, WhatsApp has the freedom to advertise itself as it sees appropriate, which now includes an homage to its beginnings – privacy. This is beneficial to Meta, which is attempting to improve its image as a result of its privacy flaws. When you examine closely, though, things don’t stack up.
In 2009, WhatsApp was launched as a superior replacement to SMS, and it is credited with providing privacy and encryption. While the firm may have wished to enable more security and privacy features as an independent company and opposed ad models, as it grew, it prioritized user services like transferring media and receiving push alerts.
To compete with Viber (first with calling), Line (first with stickers), and others, the focus shifted even more toward usability features like in-app calling, rather than security or privacy, after its 2014 acquisition by Facebook. WhatsApp’s implementation of two-factor authentication and end-to-end encryption was postponed until 2016.
Why you should be concerned?
To begin with, many users were unaware that Facebook, a firm with a poor track record when it comes to data protection, already had access to a significant quantity of WhatsApp metadata, such as phone numbers and device information. Then came the news that even more metadata could be mined, shared, and sold for ad targeting, which came as a bit of a shock to those who were paying attention. Millions of people abandoned the service, causing WhatsApp to postpone its comprehensive policy change for several months.
When WhatsApp thought the uproar had gone down enough, the adjustments were eventually implemented in May 2021. Users would grow more dependant on the service in the meantime, and therefore more accepting of conditions they didn’t like, the goal was. But things haven’t been easy since then.
In Europe, data privacy laws are far tougher than in the United States. As a result, Ireland’s privacy police penalized WhatsApp €225 million ($267 million) in September for violating EU data privacy standards.
To put this in context, only Amazon has ever faced a fine of this magnitude. WhatsApp failed to educate European users about how their personal information is gathered and utilized, as well as how it is shared with Facebook. In September, ProPublica published a devastating study claiming that WhatsApp’s end-to-end encryption was not what it claimed to be.
Considering this, as well as the slew of data privacy difficulties that Facebook has encountered in the past, WhatsApp isn’t exactly a data privacy champion. It’s also no accident that WhatsApp partnered with Meta for its advertising, thereby eliminating any link to Facebook’s shady privacy practices. It was the birth of a fresh branding opportunity.